May 12, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , , ,
Backronym Hero coming to a web page near you
I've been spending a lot of free time these days working on a game (for me... for a change). It's almost ready to share. YAY! I've even somehow managed to convince +Jordan to code the multiplayer and game logic for me :)

It's inspired by Acrophobia, my favourite word game of the 90's. I've searched for versions of it online and on my phone but the only one I could actually play was extremely buggy. Why not make my own? Sure! It's great to work on games you truly love playing, and I get to brush up on my uber rusty UI design skills.


I've modernized it a fair bit and was inspired by the retro comic book style, I'm so excited to see it starting to come to life. I'm not an artist, I enjoy drawing and designing, but I really struggle with getting what's in my head down on paper, or on the screen in this case, so I've been trying to practice getting the outcome I envision. (I'm sure there's an artistic term for that) I decided to simplify the theme, to help make it an easier target for me to hit, and so far I'm loving the results.

There's nothing new or earth shattering in the design, but I think it's fun and simple, and most importantly it really does remind me of those old comic books of my youth.
Here's a peek at the main menu screen.

I managed to find some Photoshop colour swatches so I could stay true to the colour palette of the day, and I also learned a bunch of new stuff along the way.
Some in-game action. This screen is not quite finished yet.


My original design included a super cute hero character, but I've had to dial back my expectations a bit. Realistically I just don't have the time, so maybe he'll be part of the 2.0 version. These screenshots are my second draft version of the game's UI, and I like it, so this is what we're using for the first release to Facebook (then Android).  I can't wait to share the results with my word-game loving friends :) If you want to be part of the test group let me know and I'll set you up. For now I should get back to work.

March 25, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : ,
Boring American Hero
Look at what's happened to me,
I can't believe it myself.
Started this off so excited and pumped,
I should have drawn somebody else.

Believe it or not,
I've put my pen down,
I never thought I could be so bo-o-ored.
I've put this away for a week and a day.
How could this be?
Believe it or not I'm still bored.

I started this off with so much excitement. I have fond memories of loving to watch this show when I was a kid. Of course, as I started to download some reference images I couldn't actually remember the show, not a single episode floating around in my brain. The only thing I could remember was that I liked it... that should have been a warning sign.

Who could it be?
This was my third pose attempt. I originally wanted him to be in a silly flying pose, but hanging from a rope. They just didn't look right, so I went with the easy stand pose.

I should just fly away right now
At this point I was still thinking I'd finish this guy. I mean... I was about to colour in a red cape, how exciting!


I have no interesting features, I am boring.
MEH.

I could not find anything interesting about this character. I tried to finish it, but every time I sat down I just got super bored and found something else to do on my tablet. Fail. Blah.

Who knows, maybe I'll finish him someday, but for now I'm giving up on The Greatest American Hero and moving on. I'm working on some character designs for a game +Jordan and I are developing. I'll share some pics when I can.


March 12, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , ,
With my folder structure in place, I now have to set up a few tools to help achieve my organization opus. I'm using Windows backup to perform my weekly backups, and I had also planned to use it to create a system image but it has never worked for me and I've given up fiddling around with it. I would love to get some feedback on a reliable alternative for creating my disk image.

I download A LOT of files. I'm always evaluating new software and development tools, playing around with various sdk's and frameworks, reviewing technical documentation, and a lot of other nerdy code stuff. I also buy and download knitting and sewing patterns, podcasts, music, and books which definitely add up over time. Some of this clutter can be dealt with immediately, by moving the file out of the downloads folder to where it belongs. However, there are some things that I don't want to move out of the downloads folder, most of the things I evaluate just never make the cut, but life happens and I get pulled away from the computer. A week or two passes and I forget about that new thing I was testing out, and my downloads folder starts taking over my hard drive.

A similar thing occurs on the desktop, with all the software I install and uninstall, they inevitably leave a trail of useless desktop icons behind. I need to bring some order to my desktop, and some automation to my downloads folder. This is sounding fun now, new tools to play with :)

Desktop

I've been playing around with Stardock's Object Desktop, and there are some things I love about it, and a few things that I've found disappointing. Initially I planned on only purchasing Fences, but after viewing the demo video for Object Desktop, I had to have the Impulse Dock! Unfortunately the video is out of date, and the Impulse Dock is no longer included. I've managed to use Tiles in a similar way to how I was planning to use the Impulse Dock, but it's still not quite what I want. I absolutely love Fences though, I've only been using it for a few weeks now and I'm not sure how I've survived this long without it.
Uncluttered desktop - Click to view larger image.
Main screen of my newly uncluttered desktop.
In addition to keeping shortcuts and folders grouped on the desktop, I love that I can see those nasty unsolicited desktop icons immediately. As soon as I see an icon that isn't inside a fence, I off it to the recycle bin. I may do a more in depth review of the Object Desktop after I've used it for a while.

Downloads

When I finally cleaned up my computer I found hundreds of old files here, and 95% of it was garbage. Since I tend to forget about stuff I download, I've decided to add some automation to clean up the downloads folder. I want anything in this folder that is older than 30 days to be moved to the recycle bin. I wrote this simple batch file to handle it:

recycle-old-files.bat
REM This script depends on cmdutils Recycle command - http://www.maddogsw.com/cmdutils/
REM Make sure to add the cmdUtils to your windows PATH
REM %1 = Target directory
REM %2 = Number of days old
@echo off

REM Move all files (not including subfolders) older than {%2} days in folder {%1} to the recycle bin
forfiles /p %1 /m *.* /D -%2 /C "cmd /c Recycle /f @path"

REM how to use: > recycle-old-files.bat "C:\Users\Sherri\Downloads" 30

I then set up a task in Windows Task Scheduler to point to my batch file. Now, every day this task will search my Downloads folder for files older than 30 days and move them to the Recycle Bin, and I can continue to be lazy!

Batch files are a very simple and powerful tool and I encourage you to play around with them if you're using Windows (or shell scripts if you favour a *nix flavour). While you're at it, you should investigate the Windows Task Scheduler, it's mind boggling when i think about all the possible things I can do with that tool. Here are some useful resources to help you on your way:
An A-Z Index of the Windows CMD command line
Windows Task Scheduler



February 25, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , ,
In Part 3 I established some of the areas that were contributing to my computer organization issues, it's time to make a plan, making sure to keep these key points in mind:
  • I'm a pack rat,
  • I'll use it for both work and play,
  • ummmm, that lazy thing I mentioned earlier
I have already decided to partition my notebook hard drive into 2 partitions.
/OS Partition
+-- Program Files (default windows program directory)
+-- Tools (all those executables that I never quite know where to put, they go here now ie: ANT, Vizzy, eclipse)
+-- Users (default windows Users directory)
+-- Windows (OS directory)

/DATA Partition
+-- Documents (mostly personal stuff goes here: resumes, recipes, knitting patterns, cat food research, etc...)
+-- Libs (shared libraries, SDKs, apis, nerdy code stuff)
+-- Media (books, podcasts, photos, music, videos) 
+-- Projects (a combination of work and personal projects)
+-- Workspace (where I save all my IDE workspace files ie: eclipse, Flashbuilder, more nerdy code stuff)
+-- Web (almost all of my projects are web based so I have a LAMP stack set up here for local testing)

My external BACKUP drive is laid out very simply as well:
/DOCTOR - disk image and recovery tools
/TARDIS - weekly backups
/GALLIFREY - encrypted and password protected partition for sensitive information

I think I've managed to keep the work files segregated from my personal files, we'll see if this holds true over the next few months. My projects and work related folders are fairly well organized and aside from out-dated code or projects sticking around longer than they should, I don't require any tools or scripts to help maintain them. One problem I used to have was when I updated third-party code libraries, I never really planned where I should put them, so they ended up in various places around my computer. A few years ago I began to store them by version number, or by date if no version is available. As the version numbers increase, I can check to see if any of my projects depend on the older versions and delete old code that is no longer needed.
Here's a snapshot of my libs folder

I should actually divide the Libs folder by language... and may do that when I have extra time to update all my project references, but otherwise I find this structure works very well for me.

The Media folder is still a work in progress. We've moved most of the audio & video media to our NAS drive to serve up our entertainment to the Home Theatre. I'm starting to keep a local copy of only the files I want to sync up to a device, or sometimes I might want something to watch while traveling, although my tablet is quickly taking over as my device of choice when I travel these days. +Jordan is also working on a possible solution to get Calibre running on one of the Raspberry Pi's so we can move all of our books there and be able to sync them to any of our devices. Next are my photos... all my photos. I had started off saving them by date, over 13 years ago, and I find this system is starting to fail me, just opening the root folder takes a while and my mind isn't as sharp as it used to be. I need some additional tagging to better maintain, and more importantly search, through all my photos. I'm currently researching some tools to help manage them and will report back in another post on what I find. If you'd like to suggest something you think I should try, please let me know.

I have purposely left out the two most active areas on my computer, the Desktop & Downloads folders. They are constantly changing and are where my pack ratitude and laziness shine through, I will need more than mere folder structure to keep them under control. In my next post I will investigate a few tools to help me keep those folders organized and under control.


February 23, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , , ,
I have been working on a simple word game prototype and wanted to find a multiplayer solution that would be relatively quick and easy to setup. I researched SmartFoxServer, ElectroServer and Player.IO, and decided to give Player.IO a spin for a few simple reasons:

  • Their documentation is very well laid out and thorough. Honestly, the getting started tutorial looked too good to be true, almost as if it were challenging me to see if it was really that quick and easy to get started.
  • The free price-tag to get started is well within my budget
  • Hosting the game server code on the Player.IO game-servers is a huge time-saver for me. I don't have a lot of spare time to devote to my personal projects, so not having to mess around with setting up and maintaining the game servers lets me focus on the fun stuff, like implementing the game logic and mechanics.
I was skeptical. It is rare to find a quick setup guide where the demo source code actually compiles and runs on the first try. I had blocked off a bit of free time over this weekend and the next to get the development server and at least one demo game up and running. I walked through the Getting Started with Flash and Player.IO page, and I had the development server and client running in about 5 minutes. In 10 minutes, I had the Fridge Magnets game running live on their production servers, with the client portion being hosted on my own web server. I saved so much time I could write this post and have already begun porting my game logic into my Player.IO dev environment.

I did run into one small hiccup with the Fridge Magnets demo. The demo .fla was built for CS3, but font embedding has changed in later versions. I'm running CS6, so the first time I compiled it I could only see the letter M. A quick fix is to embed the basic latin character set, publish and you're golden!
A screenshot of the Fridge Magnets demo running on my server.


Of course, this is just my first impression of Player.IO, but so far I am quite impressed with the service. They offer just enough documentation to get you started, and once you're comfortable with the environment it's very easy to locate the meatier API docs. I am so excited at the prospect of being able to get some games up and running a lot more quickly than I could before. 

I'm taking notes as I go along, so I can write a more in-depth review of their services. I have noticed that all the examples require Flash Pro to compile the games. It is relatively easy to convert all of them to a FlashBuilder or FlashDevelop project so I may write up a post on how to do that if I see a demand for it.

I would also love to hear about other multiplayer game solutions, do you have a favourite? 

February 19, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , ,
Dworf
The tablet drawings continue. This time around I chose Worf, er... Dworf! Ahhh ha ha, I think I'm sooooo funny.

It was hard to narrow down the reference material here. Which uniform? Worf with short hair or long hair? Worf the not so merry man? I decided to go with classic Worf, as he looked for most of the TNG series. Although, I may have to revisit this character and go with the Merry Man outfit.

Worf... shiny happy person since 2340
I had to erase his folded arm a few times, but eventually some of that old Fashion Illustration class came back to me. Lucky for me there are a lot of angry models crossing their arms.

Moustaches are not easy.
Oh the hair! I definitely need some practice drawing facial hair.

You have no honour! You left out my silver sash!

LOVE LOVE LOVE him! Aside from his uber shiny shoes of course ;)

I have absolutely no idea who to draw next. I'm thinking superhero except I'm really trying to draw real people or live action characters. I'll try to choose a smilier character next. Believe it or not, I'm thinking about a real american hero.

February 18, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , ,
With my backups done, and master list in hand it was time for me to take a hard look at why I let my computer get so messy in the first place. This was difficult to answer, and there really isn't one correct answer, but I think it's important to at least try to understand where we've failed so we can learn from it and try to do better going forward. That famous quote about insanity comes to mind.

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”
- Narcotics Anonymous

I can't really say how long this part of the process takes, I think it's something we should evaluate regularly, since our computer usage will vary from time to time, so the way we organize it should be modified from time to time. I managed to whittle it down to these top 3 problem areas:

I'm a pack rat

It's difficult to throw things away.There is always that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it could be useful to me someday. After living in a few very small spaces I have developed a system for trying to keep that pack ratitude in check. If I bring something new into the house, I think about the space it will occupy and do my best to make sure it will have it's own home, or will replace something else. If you ask +Jordan, the minimalist, I don't always succeed at this, but I try to stay mindful that new things will take up some amount of space. This applies to clothes, appliances, tech toys... so why haven't I applied this rule to my computer yet?

No clear goal of what I wanted my computer to be

For almost 7 years my computer was almost entirely a tool I used for work. I kept it organized and regularly cleaned out the junk. When I made the switch from self employment to cube dwelling my computer's role in my life changed drastically, it was no longer just a tool. Also, the landscape of the Internet has changed a lot over the past few years, and my computer is now my main communication hub, media/entertainment box AND still a work tool. I need to keep this in mind when I organize it.

Laziness

I'm not proud to admit this, but it's true. Like a lot of people these days, I spend at least 8 hours a day using a computer for work. When I use my home computer I just don't want to bother with having to organize files, or uninstall some crappy old software, it just feels too much like work. Sometimes, I just want to relax and download a game demo, or listen to a few podcasts or download some family photos. I should make an effort to be mindful of where these files get saved when I download them so I can avoid a lot of clutter down the road. When I backed up my personal files, my downloads folder was by far the largest directory and after reviewing it there was almost nothing in there I needed.

You may find that you share similar issues, or perhaps we have no issues in common, the important thing is to understand what the computer's main uses will be, and to try and identify how you (or others) will use it. Now that I've identified my major problem areas, I can get to work outlining my action plan, which I will cover in my next post. 

February 16, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , ,
Edward Cutie Pants.
I had so much fun with my first tablet sketch that I thought I'd do a series of cute little cartoony characters. What better way for me to practice drawing characters for some of my personal game projects?

The Edward Scissorhands dvd was lying on the coffee table so why not draw one of my favourite movie characters?



The references for my scissorhands inspiration.

Sketch sans hands
Pretty happy with this sketch. I struggled a bit with his hands though, and forgot to save an image of the final sketch before I added the colour. I'm still not happy with the collar either, but I'm just trying to keep this fun so I won't be too hard on myself.



Hello cutie pants!
This is pretty fun :)

Yep I'm having a lot of fun with this right now. I really need to work on my colouring (or lack of colouring) skills. I had trouble getting the shading and highlights to turn out how I wanted them to. So, I just kinda gave up and decided to call this guy done.

We've been re-watching TNG and I think I may tackle Worf next. I know it may come as a surprise to some  that I don't want to draw Jean-Luc... but I don't think I could do that bald beauty any justice ;)




February 12, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , ,
So, I've decided to reformat my computer and start my road to organization from a clean slate. Before I took the drastic step of reformatting, I needed to make sure I had a backup of everything I need to re-install. Let's identify what I've got to work with:
  • Windows 7
  • Notebook with 300GB hard drive
  • External USB 1TB hard drive
My notebook is divided into 2 partitions:
  • OS Partition: used for the OS and programs
  • DATA Partition: used for my data
I'm backing up my notebook to the external usb drive. To make sure I don't lose anything, I created a master list and stepped through every installed program currently on my computer to make sure I saved everything I need. My master list consists of  the 2 tables below:
Purchased Software
Program License Info Install File & Notes
Windows ? Find cd
Adobe Creative Suite abcd... BACKUP:\path to install file
BACKUP:\path\to\appsettings (brushes, commands, etc)
FlashBuilder 4.6 issues - link to adobe forum
etc...

Free Software
Program Install File & Notes
7Zip link to download
Bitvise Tunnelier link to download
BACKUP:\path to profile files
BACKUP:\path\to\ssh keys
etc...
I saved this list to my backup drive, this is not a task I was able to finish in one sitting. I took my time,  stealing a few free hours when I could, over the course of a week. I basically went down the list of programs in the Control Panel, identified the licenses, installer and additional files I wanted for each program. As I backed up each program's files, I updated my tables. Part of this process was also to identify any software I no longer use, or don't use very often.

I should also mention here that I made a note in my master list about which software to deactivate. This isn't really a necessary step if you're re-using the same computer, but I still do it anyway just to avoid any chance of messing up my activation. I've had issues in the past with both iTunes and Adobe products, and would rather take the extra step and err on the side of caution.

When I was confident I had inventoried and backed up everything I wanted to keep, I printed off my master list and moved on to identify my problem areas, which I'll share in my next post.

I'd be interested in hearing how you prepare for a reformat? Do you have a master checklist, or even better a script to help with the task?

February 11, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , ,
Sad attempt at cartooning.
The artists at work have started up a little game where they choose someone from the office to draw. The first victim was a fellow programmer, and some of the caricatures were so well done or just so funny I was inspired to get in on the action. I haven't drawn in a very long time, and thought this would be the perfect time to take my tablet for a spin.

I installed Sketchbook Pro for Android and thought I'd be an expert in no time! Ha! I have never really been able to get the hang of digital drawing. I enjoy drawing as a hobby, and have tried using a Cintiq and a bamboo, but I found it all too frustrating and kept reverting back to my pencil and paper. This time I figured the simplicity of using a capacitive stylus (I'm using this one) with my tablet would be a little easier to get the hang of.

I got off to a rocky start, I couldn't get a smooth line, everything looked like it was drawn by an over-caffeinated 90 year old. I was very close to just packing it in, but thought I'd check online to see if others were having this same issue. I stumbled across a forum (sorry I didn't save the link) where someone mentioned that you should try faster strokes. AHA! I don't do anything fast, especially when I draw. Every line is very slow and deliberate... because I'm not very good at it yet.

Back to the tablet, thinking faster strokes, faster... and I managed to sketch out this little guy:
Caricature attempt, take 2
My lines are smoother! Hoorah!
He didn't really turn out quite as I planned, but I thought it was pretty cute, so I went with it. I was trying to make him look disappointed, but he just kept looking really sad. I thought about what this particular person might be so sad about, and laughed to myself when the answer popped into my head.
Down with Hungarian Notation!
Not bad for my first tablet sketch.
I still have A LOT of practicing to do, but I really enjoy the simplicity of the tablet app for my leap into digital drawing. Maybe after I get used to this, I can switch back to the cintiq ready to tackle the more advanced features.

February 10, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , , , ,
OK! I am having way too much fun playing around with this website. It's a Chrome only experience created with Disney for the upcoming movie OZ The Great and Powerful.


I thought the initial photo-booth was kinda cool, but this moving picture booth is way more fun. Check out me in my Sunday PJ's and bedhead... oh damn, is that a flying monkey?
I'm still afraid of flying monkeys!
1 frame from my moving picture creation
See my full animated picture here

If you're using Chrome, you definitely need to check this out. If you're not using Chrome, you should go get it right now so you can check out this awesome Chrome Experiment. www.findyourwaytooz.com.

I'm totally nerding out now, reading about the technologies used to make this site happen. Check out the case study if you want to see what's under the hood. - http://www.html5rocks.com/en/tutorials/casestudies/oz/

I wish I was working on cutting edge technology again. I miss being ahead of the curve.

February 09, 2013

Posted by Sherri Flemings | File under : , , ,
At work my computer is very organized. My projects are all stored under a projects folder, my tools and shared libraries are kept together, and my desktop is not usually cluttered. I make time between projects to clean out old files and development tools so I can make way for the new stuff. I have a pretty good system... at work.

At home, well, something went terribly wrong. I let things pile up on my desktop, I wasn't diligent about uninstalling things I downloaded for testing. I wanted to change, really, it was driving me crazy, but the task seemed daunting so I ignored it and watched my hard drive fill up slowly over the past 2 years until I finally had to face this mess that is my computer.

I spent a fair bit of time googling, to see how other developers organized their stuff... yet I didn't find anything  that was particularly useful. I find it interesting to learn how colleagues organize their information and tools, and although a lot about organization is up to personal taste, I think there are some best practices that we can learn from each other by sharing what does and doesn't work for various situations. I thought I would start up a series of my ongoing experience to seek the holy grail of computer organization.

I made the decision to reformat my computer and start from scratch. I won't be detailing how to reformat and backup, there are plenty of references on those subjects, but I will talk about the steps I took to prepare for reformatting and how I organized my backups. This series is about the process, the how and why of computer organization.

I have outlined this series into the following articles:
I would love your feedback. Do you struggle with keeping your computer clean? Do you have tips or suggestions? Is there a software tool you use to help you stay organized?